The other day Claus wrote about Jaguar and the integrated conservatism they seem to be marked by. Completely opposite to that we find the french Citroën where the term Avantgarde seems to define the marque.

It is said, that they were crazy with Citroën. Or at least diluted with Pastis in their golden days aorund the sixties and seventies and that only the customers that bought the car had had even more Pastis. To me, that must be meant as a compliment, for nothing seems more in need today than the Citroén way of madness, mixing aesthetics and innovation back then. Their cars back then were to my eyes innovations from the same place that gave us The Concorde plane or the Nasa astronaut suits from the Apollo era. Visions blended with the wildest thoughts back then. It is avantgarde from the very top drawer and therefore, looking in hindsight, it is understandable, that the marque sometimes missed the mark when you look at the current demands of today.

When Citroën created the DS-models there wasn’t officially any specific cabriversion in store. If it was deemed a bit to avantgarde og just plain squander, I don’t know. Something tells me the post war customers did not exactly ask for showy bodies and outright status symbols to the same extent as before the war. That Citroen put the coach builder Henry Chapron to work on a open version of the DS, the model that funded his business, tells me, that there was intent on seeing the most comfortable vehicle of the day without it’s characteristic roof.

Even though the roof of the DS is made of glassfiber, the frame on which it rest supports the rest of the chassis frame to such an extent, that one does not simply cut of the roof. Chapron was forced to use a model inspired by the estate or Break versions longer chassis. Not exactly the same as the base chassis but with several reinforcements which were needed in the nether regions. Later on Citroën took upon themselves producing the cabrio in which they utilized the Break chassis.

The french word for cabrio/convertible is décapotable and naturally it became the model name for the home market. Chapron built 389 pieces and Citroën delivered 1365 pieces. Chapron took up production in 1958 and built the last in 1973. Citroën made it’s own in the period of 1960-1971.

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The last time I attended the great expo for classic cars in Essen I took the time to linger by one of Chaprons earlier creations of the roofless DS. I parted the scene, marked forever after by one of the most beautiful creations which has come from the hand of man. To be able to produce so much aesthetics with so few means is truely an accomplishment. The car leads a double life: One while driving and another, when parked flat on it’s belly. In the latter position you truly sense that the blunt rear discretely disappears under the car. Elegance like this I haven’t seen on any other car. Decapotable almost turn ins to poetry just there.

Then there’s the dash. Citroën made the DS models for so many years, that the dashboard changed design dramatically several times. From the very avantgarde to the more conventional in the seventies. Interiorwise Citroën seems to be tamed a bit during the life of DS and my own 1975 model is without the most dramatic of interiors. It is on par or down to the level of other cars, I am tempted to say. With Chapron, they went all in and you got your moneys worth of interior: A dash brimming with big and small jäeger dials with white on black sans-serif fonts. It was all bordered by the legendary one spoke wheel with coiled ribbon and polished aluminium mountings. A driving position worth a Dupont lighter and a wristwatch from the Jura region.

 

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The instruments of an early DS Décapotable from Citroëns his own hand.

A later one. The wheel changes back to a more conventional one later on again.

A later one. The wheel changes back to a more conventional one later on again.

Chaprons cornucopia in the décapotable. Maybe the nicest dash in the world?

Chaprons cornucopia in the décapotable. Maybe the nicest dash in the world?

It is obvious, that with the décapotable production numbers, not everyone is allowed one. The going rates are now sky high and they are seldomly put up for sale. At Bonham Auctions one just went up for sale soon. It is from 1964 and completely restored. Price and more history can be found at Bonhams  Auctions.

This CitroënDS Décapotable will go under the hammer at Bonham Auctions

This CitroënDS Décapotable just went under the hammer at Bonham Auctions

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It doesn’t get any less conservative and more avantgarde. On the contrary beauty and elegance is marked highly and one is tempted to yell out the window: “Citroën 2016, get your act together!!!”

Translation: Christian Bartels

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